Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Passion of the Bobby

Opening in theaters everywhere, Thanksgiving Day.

RENAISSANCE. Finally, in this Thanksgiving season, a movie that deals beautifully with the sacred death of the most important person who ever lived. Cynics who believe that Hollywood is no longer capable of truly reverential productions will find themselves both weeping at the sheer transcendant anguish of the subject and cheering for the fact that someone at last had the courage to bring this story to the silver screen.

It's no accident that the visionary director who pulled off such a miraculous feat is Emilio Estevez, the son of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who plays himself in the film. But that's only the beginning of a cast so huge and talented that we haven't seen the like of it since Cecil B. DeMille last assembled his "cast of thousands." Of course, DeMille never attempted subject matter as substantial as this, which is why we must be grateful indeed that Estevez managed to secure the services of Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, and, yes, thousands of extras. As a sidenote, it can't be the case that all these stars were paid their usual rate; these days, only a Spielberg would be able to afford the price tag of a screen legend like Harry Belafonte PLUS even one of the others. Our guess is that these good people participated not for money, but for the honor of helping to bring such tragic but inspiring events alive on film.

That they have achieved their purpose magnificently well is beyond dispute. Here's an excerpt from just one of the glowing reviews that have already been published in advance of the premiere:

The film does not just attempt to tell the story of his death – it brings forward some of the most impactful things about his life. At the center of this story is a message of hope, and it is visualized through the eyes of those people who were present on that fateful night...

Adding some intrigue is the way the film’s setup has such relevance to today’s politics. From hanging chads on ballots to an unpopular war that has made the nation uneasy, the director does a great job of pointing out how closely related that time in history was to our own. The only difference is that in the film, during that time in America, there was a great hero.

It's true that the movie is shockingly violent, and parents should pre-screen it before deciding to take their children, but Estevez's commitment to historical accuracy is so scrupulous that he is as faithful in his depiction of death as he is in duplicating the period speech, attire, and backgrounds of the hundreds of fictional characters amongst whom the real events unfold. And no one will be able to find fault with the performances on display here. Belafonte is powerfully moving as Pedro, the disciple who adores his master but denies him nonetheless. Anthony Hopkins is equally brilliant as Ponzio Pilates, the corrupt bureaucrat whose decision not to decide has such fatal consequences. Quite unexpectedly, Sharon Stone shows flashes of genius as the compulsively exhibitionistic Mary Magpie, who overcomes her past to reveal a heart-rending devotion to virtue. Almost as good is Demi Moore in the role of Mary Magpie's jealous twin sister, who can't stop herself from stripping to the buff at a hugely inauspicious moment -- just as the saintly mother character played by Helen Hunt is acting up a storm. Other performances consist largely of gemlike cameos -- Kutcher as the treacherously dull-witted advance man Jude, Christian Slater as the security guard who undergoes a miraculous, blood-spattered conversion, Linday Lohan as a gum-chewing tart who's still johnny-on-the-spot with a drink of water, and, of course, Martin Sheen as the incomprehesively wise lord and creator of the universe.

"Ready when you are, Mr. Estevez."

Those who are looking forward to a star turn in the role of the protagonist will be momentarily disappointed by the fact that he is rendered in the style of the messiah character in Ben Hur, shown only from behind bathed in radiant light, but as the film progressively illuminates his supernatural greatness, it becomes clear that no one yet born would have been big enough to play him. In this decision, as in all others, Estevez demonstrates an Oscar-worthy mastery.

It's rare for us to admit that words can't do justice to a movie, but that's the fact of it with regard to The Passion of the Bobby. Millions will come out of the theater sobbing and broken-hearted but filled with a deeply healing inner light. It's our guess that people will be going to see this movie on key anniversary dates year after year. We'll be there for sure.

Believe it or not.

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